By David Monti
(c) 2015 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
BOSTON (28-Feb) -- Shannon Rowbury's successful indoor season continued here today at the USA Indoor Track & Field Championships, claiming her first indoor mile (or 1500m) title in a tactical race. Rowbury, 30, the 2009 IAAF World Championships 1500m bronze medalist, kicked to a 4:34.40 winning time, holding off a late charge by Katie Mackey at the Reggie Lewis Track & Athletic Center at Roxbury Community College.
"I figured it would go out slow, but you never know," Rowbury told reporters after winning what was the fourth national title of her career. "My assumption was that the race would go out slow, and then I'd work the second half."
Rowbury remained patient during the slow first half which was led mostly by 2012 USA Olympic Trials 1500m champion Morgan Uceny. The race dawdled through the half-way mark in 2:26.1, and Rowbury waited one more lap before asserting herself. She came up on the outside, and the pace immediately picked up.
"I'm a little surprised at how hard they made me work before I took the lead," Rowbury said.
With two laps to go, Rowbury already had control of the race, but her Nike Oregon Project teammate Jordan Hasay and former Georgetown standout Rachel Schneider, tried to hold on. Mackey --who had run the USA Cross Country Championships on February 7th and finished a disappointing 21st-- started to move up from the pack.
"In the last 200 I was just thinking move, move, move; short strides, short strides; chest up; move arms," Mackey said after the race.
Rowbury had already shed Hasay and Schneider, and in the last 100 meters, only Mackey came within striking distance. But Rowbury --who ran the fastest indoor mile in the world this year (4:22.66)-- wasn't worried.
"I knew I had it," she said. "I think if someone else had come, I would have found another gear. By the time I got to the last 200, I wasn't even worried about who was behind me."
Mackey finished second in 4:34.83, and Schneider was third in 4:35.85. Uceny had an off-day and finished seventh and last. Rowbury is also running the two-mile tomorrow.
In the men's two-mile, a distance which has not been a part of these championships since 1932, former North Carolina State star Ryan Hill won his first open national title in a last-lap battle over Ben Blankenship and Evan Jager, scorching the final lap in 25.8 seconds.
Hill, who runs for the Nike Bowerman Track Club, stayed near the front of the race, keeping the leaders close through halfway. He knew he would need his speed for the last laps.
"Today I was ultra-sensitive to anyone taking the lead hard," Hill explained. "In the past I've made mistakes letting them go away. My kick at the end isn't enough to win."
At the bell, Jager and Hill were together at the front with Blankenship, who had run a 3:35.26 1500m earlier this season and was clearly a threat to win. Hill took sole possession of the lead on the backstretch of the final lap with Blankenship in hot pursuit. He had the lead coming out of the final bend, and held it to the line. He broke the tape in a championships record 8:26.72.
"I was like, I want to be on the leader with a lap to go," Hill said. "And, fortunately, that is kind of how I won the race."
Blankenship got second in 8:27.31, and Jager finished third in 8:27.44. Chris Derrick, who won the USA Cross Country Championships on February 7th, finished fifth after leading for more than three laps in the middle of the race. He said the race was painful.
"It felt terrible," Derrick joked. He continued: "Then I went to the front; I just felt awful."
Taking a businesslike approach to the prelims of the women's 600m, Ajee' Wilson got out hard and ran where she's most comfortable: out in front. Wilson adhered to coach Derek Thompson's advice and took the pole position from the get-go.
"My coach just told me to get to the front and just run. That's what I did," said the focused Wilson, winning heat three in 1:26.56. That was the fastest time of all final qualifiers.
Also running wire-to-wire out front was Alysia Montano, racing in her first U.S. Championships since giving birth to her baby girl, Linnea, in August. Montano established a lead on Phoebe Wright and Megan Malasarte in the opening lap and didn't take her foot off the gas pedal, winning in 1:27.47. Montano said it was extra special to take the victory in front of Linnea.
"I could not wait for this environment, to be not holding this 8-pound baby in the process [while racing]," said a smiling Montano, her traditional flower perched in her hair. "I'm so happy to be here. I love my track fans and I just love the environment. It was so important for me to have my daughter see that."
Montano's return to racing six months after giving birth drew applause by Wilson.
"I'm definitely excited that she's back. Am I surprised? No. Seeing what she did last year outdoors you can just tell she's in love with the sport," Wilson said. "She loves to compete and she's a fierce competitor so I knew it wasn't going to be long until she was back."
Also qualifying for the women's 600m final was Kendra Chambers (1:26.73), Wright (1:27.81), Malasarte (1:27.87), and Bethany Praska (1:28.19).
In the men's 600m qualifying, former Penn State star Casimir Loxsom led all qualifiers with a 1:16.26 clocking. His Brooks Beasts teammate, Mark Wieczorek, had the #2 time of 1:16.80, while world 500m record-holder Brycen Spratling had the #4 time (1:17.17). The American record holder for the distance, Erik Sowinski, also advanced.
"I like that distance, I love this track, I love being home," said Loxsom, who now lives in Seattle but grew up in nearby Connecticut. "I feel good. Great day."
In the women's 1000m preliminary round, Charlene Lipsey turned in the fastest time of the day with a 2:40.79 clocking. After finding herself in the rear of heat one with 300 meters to go, the former LSU Tiger swiftly moved past Lauren Wallace, Stephanie Brown, and Geena Lara into the lead. Maintaining her pace on the bell lap, Lipsey would cross the finish more than a second up on Wallace.
"I didn't plan to be as far back as I was," Lipsey told Race Results Weekly. "I originally wanted to go at 200m [left] but because I was in last place I had to make that conscious move to go ahead."
Wallace (2:41.23) was the only other woman to advance out of the heat.
Section two would come down to the final 400 meters, as Stephanie Charnigo (New Jersey/New York Track Club), Alexa Efraimson (Nike), and Treniere Moser (Nike Oregon Project) battled step for step together, occasionally rubbing elbows. Knowing the top two finishers automatically qualified for Sunday's final, the trio didn't relent coming around the final bend, with Charnigo powering out front.
Charnigo would prevail in 2:43.72, a step up on Efraimson (2:43.91) and Moser (2:44.14).
"I was just running for second hoping to qualify," said Efraimson, who is competing in her first USA Indoor Championships and found it to be very physical. "I don't think the final is going to be easy. You just got to be able to hold your ground."
The top seven times in the men's 1000m preliminary round were all set in the first section. New Jersey's Robby Andrews relied on his well-developed kick to move into the lead on the final lap, overtaking Kyle Merber and Cory Leslie. Andrews took the victory in 2:19.85, setting him up well for tomorrow's final.
"The goal was to qualify. We did that. It felt good. I love the 1000m, it's my favorite event, and I was just really glad to compete here today," said Andrews. "The final is any man's race, but I'm feeling good."
Merber (2:19.92), Mike Rutt (2:20.02), and Leslie (2:20.52) rounded out the top four. Tom Scott, formerly of NCAA Division II school Ashland University, was the surprise winner in heat two (2:24.17). Nike Oregon Track Club Elite's Harun Abda was hot on his heels in 2:24.24. The odd man out not advancing to Sunday's final was Ben Scheetz, crossing the line two-one thousandths of a second behind Abda.
The USA Indoor Track & Field Championships continue here tomorrow.